State School Superintendent hears citizens comments on Greenwood’s future, special levy
State School Superintendent Dr. James Phares was supposed to be at the board meeting, but was only able to attend by phone.
County residents voiced concerns about the possibility of Greenwood school closing next year. Others denounced the board’s plans to re-run a revised special levy in the May general election.
Phares listened to the meeting by speakerphone until the public comment period was over and commented on the proceedings.
Jeannie Ford, who was active in campaigning against the school levy, said people were losing their jobs and most like her didn’t have the dental and vision benefits that teachers had.
Ford took issue with county schools providing more than the state did—a vehicle for the superintendent, high salaries for him and the school treasurer and money for community organizations.
“Give it to the children. Get back to the fundamental things,” she said.
Ford thought that 40% of voters had to sign a petition for the special levy to be run again and said she might take the issue before a judge. She wanted to know if the school board had the right to run another special levy under State code.
Dr. Phares said he would put Ford in touch with legal counsel to answer her levy questions.
Businessman Lou Clawges said the people had spoken with their defeat of the special levy and felt his vote didn’t count. He asked how many times they were going to rerun the levy.
Levy will be different
Board member Aaron Close said they were not running the same special levy again. It would be a different levy with different line items.
Board president David Ambrose said it was common practice in the state for counties to rerun special levies. There was a precedent for rerunning a special levy three times.
Board member Pat Springer told Clawges that school officials had taken people’s vote and concerns under consideration. She said only 25% of voters had turned out for the levy election in May.
“We are entitled to run it again. We need the levy,” she noted.
Clawges said he’d move his business to another state if the levy was rerun and passed. He wanted taxes to go down and said he didn’t have retirement like teachers did.
Eric Pritchard questioned whether the county was getting any benefit from the money being put into the special levy. He said West Virginia is in the bottom 10% of the nation’s schools and the United States is ranked low in education globally.
“If we’re graduating kids that can’t make change, there’s something wrong,” Pritchard said.
Ambrose pointed out that the county’s dropout rate was way below the state’s average. Those that didn’t graduate made substantially less than those that did. He felt the county was sending out more graduates that were better equipped to be better citizens and productive workers.
Teresa Vera talked about how Greenwood Elementary strove to meet the needs of the whole child, which included physical, environmental, emotional and mental needs. The PTA, the South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department, local churches and community members are very involved in the school, she said.
Dedicated PASS volunteers donate time with students weekly. Many Greenwood graduates had gone on to become doctors, teachers and principals.
Samantha Veara, a Berkeley Springs High School student, said the personal attention and the caring, nurturing family atmosphere she got at Greenwood gave her the skills to meet the challenges of middle school and high school. She wished every student could benefit from the same school atmosphere that she had.
Greenwood Elementary Principal Barbara Miller said anything we can do to make students grow into better adults is so valuable.
Greenwood graduate and community leader Dale Heironimus wanted to know how 32 of 39 Greenwood area students that were attending other schools were doing so without formal transfers being approved. Four signatures were needed in paperwork he’d seen.
Heironimus noted that every county school’s population had decreased from 2009 through 2013 except for Greenwood, which had increased eight students. He questioned why the board would consider closing the only school where enrollment and area population had increased.
Heironimus also asked what the school board’s annual expenses were for maintaining the former Great Cacapon Elementary building.
Robert Unger wanted to know what has been done since 2007 to limit the increase in school expenditures.
School board president David Ambrose said they’d made $671,000 in cuts that included personnel reductions, decreases in sick leave benefits and tuition reimbursement and summer and overall maintenance projects.
Closing reasons disputed
Ryan Fincham wasn’t satisfied with the board’s research on reasons for closing Greenwood.
“We’re growing. No one else is,” he said.
With all the improvements that have been done to the school, which included a new septic system, a repaired roof and asbestos abatement, Fincham felt it was a bad business decision to close the school.
He questioned the net savings the board would see and said it would be maybe $114,000 — not the $500,000 that it cost to run the school. The actual cost per pupil savings would be very small and there would be no transportation savings.
He wasn’t sure that sending their kids to Warm Springs Intermediate School would result in a comparable education. While he said the intermediate school was a good school, it was just classified as a support school, two steps down from Greenwood, which is a transition school.
Johnny Shepherd said that Greenwood is an outstanding school. Smaller schools have better test scores, he said.
Brad Michael said that the foundation of education they were providing for their children at Greenwood, a neighborhood school, is way too important. He encouraged the board to keep all of the neighborhood schools open - Greenwood, Pleasant View and Paw Paw Schools.
“The success we’ve had is second to none,” he said of neighborhood schools.
Homeschooling, bus runs
Barbara Ruckman said that some Greenwood Elementary parents may be considering home-schooling instead of sending their children to Warm Springs Intermediate School. She questioned having high school students and kindergarten kids on the same buses.
Amy Glascock, a Greenwood graduate and a Warm Springs Middle School teacher, said she was very upset about Greenwood possibly closing. Many family members had also graduated from there.
“It gave me character. I’m a teacher today,” she said.
Glascock said for kids to be at Greenwood Elementary at 7:10 a.m., they were getting on the bus at 6:25 a.m. She asked how early students would have to board busses in order to reach schools in Berkeley Springs.
Glascock said she was teaching at a focus school and wanted her child to stay at a transition school. She said she may have to take leave and home school her child for two years if Greenwood closes.
Susan Shick said her kids attended Greenwood. She transferred her son to another school because teachers had already left Greenwood and there hadn’t been a teacher in place to begin the school year.
Shick said she didn’t understand the breakdown of school expenses, where the money has gone and why the board raised the special levy rate before the election. She thought that the library was the only community group required to receive funds from the special levy.
Shick said rumors were flying that all sports could be discontinued next year without levy funds. She asked if that was true. She also asked what was happening with the traffic warning lights that were approved for Greenwood.
Superintendent David Banks said he would have a list of possible budget cuts and recommended cuts to bring to the school board soon. The traffic warning lights were on hold for now, Banks said.